James Dyson Pursued a Slow Hunch by Trial and Error

(p. 6) Mr. Dyson discovered his passion for design at an early age, and eventually began work on his signature product, the bagless vacuum cleaner. It took several years, but he brought the product to market, founding Dyson Ltd. in 1991. Soon, Dyson was expanding internationally and developing new products, including washing machines, fans, heaters, air purifiers, hand dryers and hair dryers. It is now at work on an electric car.
. . .
And what was so different about your vacuums?
I saw the problem, and I saw a possible solution, which was the huge cyclones outside cement plants and timber yards that collect dust all day long. So I started building various versions of that technology. As it happens, it didn’t work. I had to spend four or five years coming up with different types of cyclonic separation devices in order to make it work.
It took a lot of empirical work. I had to build the prototypes, one or two a day, which sounds tedious, but actually it was fascinating. I’m still doing it today. It always is a wonderful adventure of excitement and disappointment. Almost everything you do is a failure, until you get the one success that works..
How did you pay for all that research and development before you had a product to sell?
I was borrowing it all from the bank. Going deeper and deeper into debt. By the time I launched the vacuum cleaner, I was two million pounds in debt. I think the bank got in a bit deeper than they intended to, but I had an interesting bank manager. I asked him why he lent me the money, and he said, “I went home to my wife and said, ‘What do you think about vacuum bags and vacuum cleaners?’ And she said, ‘Dreadful, dreadful.'”
. . .
Why are you in favor of Brexit?
I think we should be independent. Europe has become more and more of a unified society where all the laws are made in Brussels. I don’t believe it’s ever been right for Britain.
Britain has always been a globally facing country, with our empire, if I dare mention that, covering half the globe. We have a pioneering and global outlook. There’s no room for us in Europe.
What about the prospect of economic disruption to England
All cars coming into England from America have a 10 percent duty on them, and most of that goes to Brussels. Europe is a protectionist setup designed to keep competitors out. It’s not a good thing to be in. We believe in free trade. And if any bankers are leaving London, it’s got nothing to do with Brexit. It was the right decision for Britain.

For the full interview, see:
David Gelles, interviewer. “‘Follow the Design, Not the Market.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, Dec. 6, 2018): 6.
(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Dec. 5, 2018, and has the title “CORNER OFFICE; James Dyson: ‘The Public Wants to Buy Strange Things’.” The first quoted paragraph, and the bold questions, are by David Gelles. The answers are by James Dyson.)

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